Student Type: Transition Award

Christopher (Tatt) Charlie

IN HIS OWN WORDS:

I’ve spent most of my life in Tofino, a small town of 1500. So living in Vancouver the last five years has been an eye opener. Because there are humans everywhere. When I first moved here, getting on the bus was intimidating. People avoid eye contact. They don’t do that in a small town. Everyone knows everybody there. So, it’s different here.  But I have learned to live with the city again. I get on that bus almost every day.

Because I’m a 48 years old student, with a dream, and I feel like the luckiest person alive.

The early years of my story aren’t unusual in our community. A broken family. Father raised in a residential school. Telling us to forget our Indigenous heritage. Try to fit in. Growing up in East Van till I was thirteen. Moving around a lot. Then moving up to Tofino to be with my father. My family’s ancestral homeland. I felt immediately at home there. But a relationship and family came along soon, and I never got to finish school. I worked different jobs, but always something nagged at me. A dream not birthed yet. Laying like an egg inside me. And then the gift of a job in an art gallery, learning about art and artifacts, laying a seed for the future. Then a wonderful job as a tribal park guardian brought me closer to nature and my heritage again.

But still there was something missing. So, when Covid hit, I contacted the native education college in Vancouver, and signed up for three courses. It was tough going back to school in my 40’s. Humbling. Being twice the age of most of the students. “What’s grandpa doing here?” their eyes said, But I stuck with it, and before long, my brain was on fire with learning. Learning how our chromosomes can track everything. How languages, dialects, and ancient cultures are disappearing world-wide. And then I felt the egg cracking inside me. A purpose coming alive. And when I got accepted for an internship at museum of anthropology at UBC and received a Transition Award from the BC Scholarship Society to pay for my training there, my dream came alive.

I began working every day in the museum, poring over Indigenous art and artifacts, learning how to be a curator. Surrounded by the treasures of my people. The art of our dreamers and storytellers. And I thought “These need to come home. Where our young people can see and feel them. Re-connect with their roots. In the lands that these treasures were birthed in.” Do you know there is not one Indigenous museum on native land in this country? Our treasures sit in cold, glass cases, far away from the land, and soil, and the people that created them. The people that need them.

So that is my dream. To create the first Indigenous museum on first nations lands. To see our treasures brought home. That is what I am working towards now. That is the egg that has hatched inside my heart, and has turned my life into a beautiful journey. That is why I get on the bus every day. Some people think I am crazy at 48 to have such a dream. But I already have a piece of land to build our museum on. The dream has begun to take shape. So, if you think you are too old to dream, I’m proof you’re not. Take a chance. Do what I did and apply for the Transition Award from the Scholarship Society. Because we all deserve a second chance. An opportunity to dream again.

To give birth to the silent treasures that lay inside each one of us.